Essay on abortion: what not to share

The Frenchwoman Pauline Harmange became famous with her essay “I hate men”. Now she’s following up with a book about abortion.

Portrait of Pauline Harmange

A well-considered decision: Pauline Harmange writes about abortions Photo: Magali Delporte

Her debut work caused a great stir, not only in Pauline Harmange’s home country France, but also in this country the title “I hate men” (2020) caused a loud howl. “Are you allowed to incite hatred of men?” asked a German medium, others accused Harmange of high treason and an employee who was supposed to advise the French ministry on gender equality demanded that the publisher withdraw the book.

According to Harmange, who is in a romantic relationship with a man herself, it is less the men per se that she hates than their stereotypically male behavior. In her essay, she breaks down everything that counts. You should read it instead of just being put off by the radical title.

Harmange’s latest title – in between the 1994 French born woman published another novel – deals with the topic of abortion and its social reception. Although the subject repeatedly receives public attention, it usually only occurs when the legal situation changes in favor of or against medical termination of pregnancy. Yes, isn’t that enough?

No, Harmange thinks. Because what is usually discussed in the media on the subject of abortion rarely comes without drama. Either you come across information and statistics or you come across individual stories, which – no matter in which direction – are mostly tragic. Harmange wants to make it clear in just under a hundred pages that the experience of an abortion, if one has access to it, is individual. Because so far “there [es] no place for our diversity”.

Abortion despite a general desire to have children

So in order to create that diversity, Harmange throws her experience into the ring with “I have to talk about it” and not only says that she had an abortion (that alone should no longer be a statement in 2023), but also answers why: “The Longing for a child, which I thought about when I made my decision to have an abortion, even before I thought about myself, was not mine. She was the result of a complicated equation: being a woman, having been raised a woman, and dutifully conforming to those standards.”

But at the time of her pregnancy, Harmange is not ready, feels too young and above all not financially able to do so.

Her decision is a well-considered one, discussed down to the last detail with her partner and lived through together. It is often rightly complained that men have too little repertoire to describe their feelings in crisis situations, writes Harmange and continues: “By giving my husband a place in the experience of my abortion, I also gave his feelings space.”

She lets the readers share in the pain

Harmange is mellow, you can tell by her language. Her quest to elevate the individual to a collective level is reminiscent of Annie Ernaux’s treatment of her own abortion experience in The Event. However, Harmange’s tone is less cool than that of the Nobel Prize winner. Rather angry, although not as much as in her first book, she writes against injustice and her vehemence makes one think of Virginie Despentes.

Harmange transforms the pain left by the abortion with all its physical and psychological influences, spreads it out and lets the readers participate in it. There is the fear of regret that doesn’t entirely go away before or after abortion, the fear of having forfeited the right to motherhood, and the difficulty of having sex again afterwards.

Pauline Harmange: “I have to talk about it”. Rowohlt, Hamburg 2023. 128 pages, 12 euros

It’s probably not the book of the year, and yet it’s soothing and comforting to be a part of this reality of life, even if it doesn’t affect you. Because as Harmange puts it so beautifully: “If white straight cis men can tell the same story a hundred times about a midlife crisis anti-hero, […] others can also claim the right to repeat, reinforce, and drill.”

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